How Many Types of Italian Cheeses Exist? Discover the Incredible Variety of Italian Cheeses

How Many Types of Italian Cheeses Exist? Italian Cheese Classifications

Italian culture is closely linked to culinary arts in all its forms and expressions. This ranges from the preparation of typical dishes to the production in compliance with centuries-old traditions and strict regulations, of the famous Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) products with protected origin, each specific and exclusive to very precise areas. It notably includes the many Italian cheeses, available in such a variety of types and flavors that amazes, favorably, especially non-Italian visitors. The traditions of cheesemaking are ancestral, handed down from father to son in the peasant culture of the country. Cheeses are ubiquitous on the tables of every Italian citizen, and it is possible to taste them at any restaurant, trattoria or even street food vendor scattered throughout the territory.

How Many Types of Italian Cheeses Exist?

Precisely quantifying the number of types of Italian cheeses is difficult, given the wide variety that exists within the country and those that remain unknown. It is estimated that there are almost 500 different types of cheeses in Italy when considering cheeses belonging to long-standing dairy traditions as well as more recently developed cheeses. Most are recognized and protected under Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), or are included in the list of Traditional Agri-Food Products (PAT) established by the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies (MIPAAF) in collaboration with the Regions.

The types range from fresh and soft cheeses to seasoned and semi-mature cheeses, hard cheeses, soft cheeses, string cheeses, blue cheeses, spreadable cheeses and many others. Each region of Italy, from north to south, boasts its own specialties and dairy traditions largely influenced by the unique environmental, climatic and territorial conditions that contribute to the diversity and richness of the Italian dairy landscape.

If you are interested in the regional differences of Italian cheeses, read this post: Italian Cheese: A Culinary Tour of the Regions

The Top Ten Most Famous Italian Cheeses

The ten most popular and well-known types of Italian cheese, are: Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP, Gorgonzola DOP, Grana Padano DOP, Pecorino Romano DOP, Taleggio , Fontina DOP, Provolone, Asiago DOP and Burrata.

Italian Cheese Classifications

There are several criteria to consider when classifying the wide variety of traditional Italian cheeses based on shared characteristics. This analysis will explore four primary classification criteria and their implications, with some notable cheese examples provided.

The four classification criteria are:

  1. Milk Type
  2. Curd Formation
  3. Maturation
  4. Rind

Examining Italian cheeses according to these criteria provides insight into their similarities and differences.

1. Classification of Italian Cheeses Based on Milk Type

Italian cheeses can be classified based on the type of milk used, which refers to the animal it comes from, the temperature reached during processing, and fat content.

Based on milk source, you can obtain different types of cheese:

  • Cow’s milk cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, Brie, and Grana Padano DOP, which are among the most popular worldwide.
  • Goat cheeses such as Cadolet PAT, Cacioricotta del Cilento PAT, and Padduni PAT, having a stronger flavor than cow’s milk varieties.
  • Pecorino cheeses made from sheep’s milk, often more robust than cow’s or goat’s cheeses, including Pecorino Romano DOP, Pecorino Toscano DOP, and Fiore Sardo DOP.
  • Buffalo cheeses typical of Southern Italy, where buffalo milk production thrives, such as Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP, Burrata PAT, and Caciocavallo di Bufala.
  • Mixed milk cheeses combining milks in variable proportions, offering diverse flavors and textures, like Castelmagno DOP, Bra DOP, and Casciotta d’Urbino DOP.

In terms of processing temperature:

  • Raw milk cheeses are all those cheeses obtained with unpasteurised milk, i.e. processed at a temperature that does not exceed 40°C. These cheeses retaining microflora and offering lactose-free options like Parmigiano Reggiano DOP and Grana Padano DOP.
  • Pasteurized milk cheeses heat-treated over 70°C to eliminate bacteria, used for fresh/soft cheeses such as Gorgonzola DOP and Squacquerone di Romagna DOP.

Finally, milk fat plays an important role, determining consistency, flavor, aroma, preservation, and melting point. Cheeses can be:

  • Full-fat cheeses with over 42% fat, creamy and rich like Murazzano DOP, Taleggio DOP, and Pecorino Sardo DOP.
  • Semi-fat cheeses between 35-42% fat, balancing flavor and texture, including Provolone del Monaco DOP and Fontina DOP.
  • Light cheeses with 20-35% reduced fat, often preferred for low-calorie options.
  • Low-fat cheeses under 20% fat, drier and less creamy, suitable for low-calorie/low-fat diets, like ricotta and cottage cheese.

2. Classification of Italian Cheeses Based on Texture (Pasta)

The texture of cheese, also known as the “pasta,” refers to the entire inside of the cheese, except the outer rind. Its texture varies based on several factors, including the percentage of water contained within the cheese, the temperature used during processing, and the length of aging.

Taking into account the consistency of the texture, we can classify the different types of Italian cheeses into:

  • Hard Cheeses: Commonly found in Northern Italy, these cheeses have a dense, compact consistency and high fat content. They frequently undergo long maturation periods, sometimes years, which results in a dry, firm texture alongside complex, robust flavors. Examples include Grana Padano and Piedmontese Castelmagno. Made from both raw and pasteurized milk coagulated with rennet, the curd is then acidified. Key production steps involve breaking the curd, sometimes twice for specialty products like Castelmagno and Bra D’alpeggio, placing it into molds, and pressing within the molds. Hard cheeses can be cooked, as in most varieties, raw like those from Piedmont, or semi-cooked which have widespread distribution. The length of aging depends on the specific type and may span many years.
  • Semi-Hard Cheeses: Semi-hard and stringy cheeses have a less hard consistency but remain compact. Their flavor can range from sweet to robust depending on the milk used and maturation time. They are mostly typical of southern Italy including Campania and regions further south, and include mozzarella, fiordilatte, burrata, and stracciate. However, provolone and scamorza have a slightly harder texture and also originate from this region. A key characteristic of these cheeses is their ability to blend perfectly at high temperatures, imparting an extreme creaminess which makes them well-suited for products such as pizza, fried arancini balls, calzones, and vegetable flans. In preparation, the curd is immersed in warm or hot water after a short maturation period, then “spun” or pulled using wooden mallets.
  • Soft Cheeses: Soft cheeses have a tender and creamy texture, and a delicate and lactic flavour, depending on the processing method. They are aged for approximately six months. These cheeses are especially enjoyable when paired with croutons or focaccia breads. Examples include well-known varieties such as Crescenza and Stracchino. To create soft cheeses, milk is coagulated using rennet. The end product has a water content that is typically around 45-55%. The rinds of these cheeses are very thin and edible. Their shelf life is short – they are best consumed within a few days of purchase.

When considering the curd processing temperature, cheeses can be broadly categorized as cooked, semi-cooked, or raw.

  • Cooked cheeses, processed at higher temperatures, include Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, Grana Padano DOP, Provolone DOP and Asiago DOP.
  • Semi-cooked cheeses, processed at intermediate temperatures, include Toma Piemontese DOP, Caciocavallo PAT and Piave DOP.
  • Raw cheeses, processed at lower temperatures, include Mozzarella di Bufala DOP, Robiola and Crescenza.

The pasta manufacturing process also distinguishes between cheese types.

  • Blue cheeses are inoculated with specific molds during processing, resulting in a characteristic blue-green color and strong, pungent flavor and aroma. Well-known varieties include Gorgonzola DOP and Blue d’Aoste.
  • Stretched-curd cheeses have their curd stretched during processing, yielding an elastic, stringy consistency. Prominent examples are Mozzarella, Provolone Valpadana DOP, Scamorza PAT and Caciocavallo DOP.
  • Pressed cheeses have their curd pressed to expel whey and compact the mass, producing a dense, uniform structure common to “grana” cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano DOP and Grana Padano DOP.
  • Processed cheeses are characterized by a soft, creamy texture achieved through heating and melting with other ingredients. Usually packaged for individual portions, they maintain their form during cooking and are versatile for recipes. Processed cheeses include spreadable “cream cheeses” and sliced varieties from various brands.

3. Classification of Italian Cheeses Based on Maturation Process

Maturation refers to the biochemical transformations that occur in cheese after production, which help define organoleptic characteristics. Controlled environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, and ventilation are required for cheese maturation. Longer maturation periods result in more intense flavors and a denser structure. Cheeses are categorized based on maturation length:

  • Fresh Cheeses: These undergo little to no maturation, or a short period of days to weeks. They typically have a soft consistency and delicate flavor.
  • Medium-Aged Cheeses: These mature for moderate periods ranging from weeks to several months. Texture varies from soft to semi-hard, and flavors are more pronounced than fresh cheeses.
  • Mature and Extra-Aged Cheeses: Requiring maturation from several months to years, and in some cases over 100 months. Prolonged maturation develops notable complexity in flavors and aromas, as well as a grainy, crystallized structure.
  • Smoked Cheeses: Subjected to smoking, a traditional preservation technique. During smoking, cheeses absorb aromatic compounds from smoke, integrating these flavors into their natural profiles to create unique organoleptic characteristics.

4. Classification of Italian Cheeses Based on Rind Type

The rind is the external part that encloses the cheese and forms during the production and maturation process. As noted earlier, cheeses can be classified based on differences in rind type:

  • Cheeses with a natural rind develop their rind naturally during the maturation process from molds, bacteria or yeasts that grow on the surface. The rind of these cheeses is typically consumed after cleaning.
  • Washed rind cheeses have their rind washed or brushed during ripening to remove mold growth. This rind type can impart a strong flavor and distinctive aromas to the cheese, and the rind is generally not consumed.
  • Bloomy rind cheeses, also called frosted rinds, have special molds inoculated onto their entire surface that form a thin white layer. This helps develop a delicate flavor and creamy texture within the cheese. The rind of these cheeses is also typically consumed. One famous example of a French cheese with a bloomy rind widely appreciated in Italy is Brie, known for its delicate flavor and common use in cooking.
  • Cheeses with a covered or artificial rind have additional ingredients like wax, paraffin or sometimes vine leaves or straw applied over the rind for protection during maturation. These protective coatings must be removed prior to consumption.


Cheese remains a stalwart feature of the modern culinary landscape regardless of the milk source, production methodology, or length of aging process involved. Whether derived from cow, goat, or sheep milk, cheeses command attention on menus in Italy and globally due to their widespread export and acclaim abroad. The diversity of cheese types, tying to specific regions or crafted with novel techniques, ensures its continued popularity for discerning diners. Through artisanal traditions passed between generations or innovative approaches that reimagine legacy styles, cheesemakers sustain this household name in high-end dishes and simple snacks alike. Both specialists and casual enthusiasts alike ensure the future remains bright for an item so integral to breaking bread.

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